THE JILL KELLY POEMS
By Alessandro Porco
The thing about pop culture is that there’s so much of it. One of the effects this has is to make you feel like its message is inescapable, that there’s no way to shut it out. Another is the way its volume (that is, the sheer amount of it) turns everything it says into instant cliché. It becomes a kind of subliminal conditioning. I remember standing in the University athletic center one day in the early 1980s when a student came in with a t-shirt featuring the Nike swoosh and the words “Just do it.” It was the first time I’d ever seen the words on a t-shirt.
“That must be Nike’s new ad slogan,” I said to the guy standing next to me. “I’m sick of it already.”
Alessandro Porco’s The Jill Kelly Poems seems at times to be built entirely out of such media clichés. There’s a rapper’s elegy (no “gettin’ jiggy”, but rather addressing Death with an authentic “What up, Dawg?”), an “Ode to Christina Aguilera” featuring some familiar words and music (“You complete me, Christina, like a genie in a bottle”), a sonnet on “Rudy”, Hollywood’s wannabe Notre Dame football star (“I’m Ready, Coach . . . Put Me In”) . . . and those are just the first three poems. What we have here is a sampling of sound bites, dealing with the likes of Rambo, King Kong, and the Bush Twins (the latter poem being a proud pastiche of cliché: “a cento composed of ESPN Sportscenter anchor catchphrases”).
Shoring fragments against ruin has been a valid poetic method for a while now, and it’s really only the nature of the material that is changing. Somewhat like a modern artist building statues or installations out of junk, Porco is trying to make something out of nothing (or material that is as close to nothing as you can imagine). One assumes from the weighty epigraphs and winking self deprecation (we are given a heads-up on one “imminent rhyme”) that he is aware of the poverty of his material. But at the same time, and this is the important point, he really likes this stuff. As Andy Warhol once said, “liking things” is what pop art is all about. And so Porco grooves to rap music, Christina Aguilera, ESPN, crappy movies, and, especially, porn.
Not sex. Sex is what the poets Porco quotes in his various epigraphs (Virgil, Herrick, Campion, Yeats) are talking about. Porn is not sex. Porn is mediated/media sex. This isn’t to pass any kind of moral value judgment on porn. It essentially built the Internet, so I’m not complaining. The thing is that when Porco writes about porn he isn’t really saying anything about love or sex or men and women. He’s still dredging pop culture for media bits (and “xxx lingo”).
Jill Kelly is a well-known porn star and porn producer. (Porco even has a poetic tribute to the contract girls of Jill Kelly Productions, describing them as a “League of Extraordinary Women”. The borrowing never stops.) As a Muse a porn star makes perfect sense: they are unreal and untouchable objects of desire, and of course totally inexpressive. And as a Muse of pop culture an “anal queen” is even more perfect, since the only thing she produces is shit.
But why write porn poems at all?
The question is worth asking because Porco isn’t saying anything about porn (or love, or sex, or women). Since porn, as we all know, is just something to get off to, he’s simply enjoying it. He rejects – what he feels “some critic might claim” (got me!) – that his pen is “unable to sustain / A poetic argument of ‘real’ value”. He revels in sheer boyish spunkiness, a “love of bib-bubs” expressed in what can be pretty juvenile verse:
We gulp, we plug, we jack & strap
Yo ho! A gang-bang on the seas
I’ll drinkum your jizzum like milkum
Scuttle me buttle
Piddle me paddle
Tickle my piggle
Twattle my twiddle
It’s hard not to like this, at least on one level. The baby-talk rhythms are strong, there is a liberating sense of playfulness in the language, and his sheer enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. It’s dirty and explicit without being smutty or dangerous. But that’s also the problem. It’s that same generic quality to his material – is any media form more clichéd than porn? – that effectively neuters these poems. It’s hard to make something out of nothing, especially the nothing that is pop culture. One wishes for more authentic, unmediated stuff, like the terrific poem “My Sweetest Bi-curious”, than all of the versified television and singing the body digital.
Art can, and should, respond to pop culture. And The Jill Kelly Poems is a response. But poets have to make the culture too. That’s the next step.
Review first published online May 23, 2005.